Twitter bomb threat to women journalists

Journalists Hadley Freeman and Grace Dent received the threatening tweet. Picture: PA
Journalists Hadley Freeman and Grace Dent received the threatening tweet. Picture: PA
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Police are investigating after bomb threats against women journalists were made on Twitter.

Guardian columnist Hadley Freeman, Independent columnist Grace Dent and the Europe editor of Time magazine, Catherine Mayer, received the tweet, of which Ms Dent took a screen grab and posted for her Twitter followers to see.

The message was also sent to a number of other women, including Sara Lang, a social media manager at US campaign group AARP.

It was from anonymous user @98JU98U989 – an account which was later suspended – and said, “A bomb has been placed outside your home. it will go off at exactly 10.47pm on a timer and trigger destroying everything”.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said: “We can confirm we have received allegations relating to bomb threats sent to a number of females on Twitter.”

The spokesman said inquiries were continuing, however so far there had been no arrests and no bombs actually went off.

After receiving the threat, Ms Freeman, who wrote a column entitled “How to use the internet without being a total loser”, said on Twitter that she was calling the police, adding: “If it’s illegal to threaten to bomb an airport, it’s illegal to threaten to bomb me.”

The police told her it was investigating as the threat was an arrestable offence, and advised her not to stay at home overnight on Wednesday.

Ms Freeman said she had received “loads” of abuse via Twitter in the past, from both men and women, and had also received rape threats.

She said that Twitter should take a more serious approach to online abuse and threats, and introduce more robust ways to deal with it, saying: “Threatening to bomb and rape people is illegal. We need to apply the law in the same way online as we do in the real world. There should be a button to report abuse more easily. Twitter makes money – they can afford some moderators.”

Ms Dent described the threat as a “new low”, while Ms Lang said police had visited her to check over her home in Washington and that she was “shaken up” by the threat.

The bomb tweets follow threats of rape made on Twitter against Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy and feminist campaigner Caroline Criado Perez.

More than 100,000 people have signed a petition calling on Twitter to beef up its procedures for dealing with abuse following the recent activity.

Ms Criado Perez and Ms Creasy have complained about receiving vicious tweets on the site in the past week over calls to have a woman featured on an English banknote.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said a 25-year-old man arrested by Northumbria Police on suspicion of harassment had been released on bail.

Twitter has announced plans to include a button for reporting abuse within every tweet – something which is already available on its iPhone app.

But critics argue this does not go far enough and only directs users to the existing reporting form which, they claim, is too long and impractical.

A petition calling for Twitter to take a stronger stance has drawn more than 100,000 signatures. It states: “Abuse on Twitter is common, sadly too common. And it frequently goes ignored. We need Twitter to 
recognise that its current reporting system is below required standards.”

Ms Criado Perez, 29, said Twitter needed to “get a grip” on security after she received a barrage of abusive messages, as it emerged Twitter bosses were likely to face a grilling from MPs.

She said the social network was ill-equipped to handle episodes of sustained abuse and needed to work more closely with police to deal with internet trolls.

Del Harvey, Twitter’s director for trust and safety, admitted it was not the company’s policy to automatically report threatening or abusive messages to police.

The website does not hold information to reveal the location from which a message has been sent and therefore cannot identify the correct force, he said.